Raph Clarkson (new album ‘This Is How We Grow’) – London Jazz News
Trombonist/Improviser/Composer/Educator Raph Clarkson brings higher purpose, a sense of positivity, and deeply held ideals to everything he does. The new album by his group Dissolute Society presents itself as a journey into the light. Interview with Sebastian Scottey.
London Jazz News: The first thing you notice is the quality of the top jazz musicians you’ve involved here… were they easily persuaded to get involved?
Raph Clarkson: I feel incredibly lucky and honored to be making music with these fantastic musicians. I think there wasn’t too much persuasion needed! Many musicians participated in the first Dissolved company record, ‘Soldiering On’, which we did in 2016-17, and so it was just a matter of saying ‘would you like to do that again?’, and everyone was like ‘yes please!’ which I think is a testament to the sense of connection and community we had built as a recording and live performance ensemble.
Musicians new to the Society for this record have been similarly involved through deep and longstanding musical and interpersonal relationships – Marc Lockheart had actually been a guest with the band in 2018, and since then I’ve had the joy of recording as the horn section with him and Laura Jurd for a variety of projects, including producer of ‘This is How We Grow’ Steve BakerTonic’s album, as well as the two albums and EP produced by Sonny John for the UK-Ghana collaboration, Isaac Birituro and The Rail Abandon (Sonny also appears on guitar on one track!). Tom Cawley elements brought alongside his partner Bearman finishand John ParricelliThe involvement of grew out of his collaborations with Steve for many years.
Arthur O’Hara and Alison D’Souza were also new faces, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them work together on a variety of collaborative projects in the past.
LJN: Who were the others most closely involved in the engine room – in the development of the music?
CR: The answer to this once again revolves around collaboration, connection, and community. Four tracks (7-10 on the album) were originally commissioned by the fantastic Derby-based orchestra, Sinfonia Viva, for some of their pioneering learning and participation projects, bringing together professional musicians and children from around the world. backgrounds and of various ages (from as young as 6 to 18 years old). These songs were co-written with the brilliant lyricist and writer Hazelnut Gould, and so Sinfonia Viva and Hazel, and those specific project collaborations, are what ignited the creative spark for me, in terms of putting this album together. Another song (“I Sing With The Earth”) also originated as a participation project commission, for Camden Music Hub’s “Camden New Voices” choir in partnership with the education arm of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment .
Shortly after writing these five tracks (around mid-2019), I was chatting with Steve Baker and we realized that we would both like to work together to build on these songs and create a full album. Steve has been amazing, crucial in guiding the process over a two-year period and through the pandemic, designing in the studio to record different elements and pieces of music when possible, then mixing and editing along the way. road. It was kind of a jigsaw puzzle in terms of the recording process and mixing/editing decisions, but really joyful that really kept me going through a tough time.
Of course, I cannot answer this question without mentioning the various groups of young people who have lent their voices to the record, and especially their teachers and animators, who have helped to teach the songs and to organize the recording days on site often complex. Two brothers were involved – my own, Orlando Clarkson, guiding the children at his Gillespie School, and Johnny Baker, Steve’s brother, guiding the children he teaches at Prospect House School. Finally, Caroline Moss at Durlston Court School – she was teaching me music when I has been at school – and Sheena Masson, who helped the Camden New Voices choir learn music and record their voices remotely.
LJN: Listening to the album, the sound that remains in mind is that of children’s voices, especially in ‘PLEASE!’. They really give their all! How on earth can you incorporate this amazing performance energy into an “educational project”?
CR: As a workshop facilitator (a job I do quite regularly), one of the important parts of her skills revolves around the energy in the room – how to develop it, bring it to a high level, how to calm the group, when to aim for calm, focused energy, when to work towards “wild surrender”, or “structured chaos”, or tightly connected and coordinated “big energy”. I think one of the ways to encourage and bring out this high level performance energy is to discuss openly, on an equal footing with the children, what music is, its purposes, to invite questions and curiosity from the group as well as to foster understanding and the reasons behind what we do together. It’s all also tied to children having a sense of agency and ownership over what they do.
With ‘PLEASE!’, for example, while the words are mine and Hazel’s, it didn’t take much more than to explain to the children that this music was about being listened to, that their voice was important , of those times when they feel ignored or patronized and what they would really like to express in response, for them to release their voice in the exciting way you can hear on the recording. It was all about owning their voice and telling the world what they think, and once they realized that, nothing stopped them!
LJN: Does the album have some sort of ‘main message’ – perhaps about the importance of nurturing creativity?
CR: I think the idea of nurturing creativity is definitely there – I would say it’s part of the larger idea of taking children’s voices very seriously, learning from them, their curiosity, their playfulness, their pure joy, their innocence; and of course, the unbridled imagination that children have and bring to their creative endeavors is something that should be celebrated and cherished, and something that can inspire us significantly in our adult lives.
There are other ideas that intertwine and connect to this – broader themes of love, connection and collaboration, especially with music, and the joy of doing it together, at the heart of those – this.
There is also a strong theme of learning, and even growth; learn about our world, its history, the tension/balance between technology and nature, and how by accepting our mistakes we can grow and develop as people in profound ways.
LJN: You have a track called Ada Lovelace… what’s the story there?
CR: This song was one of those originally commissioned by Sinfonia Viva, as part of a project exploring algorithms and coding through/via music. Ada Lovelace is an extraordinary historical figure, in that she is credited with writing what many consider to be the very first algorithm, paving the way (ultimately) for the development of computers and coding. She achieved this as a young woman, which is equally extraordinary in an extremely patriarchal time and culture, particularly in science and math – and in fact, Ada Lovelace Day is now celebrated every year. on October 11, celebrating the achievements of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Hazel Gould wrote a great set of lyrics to tell Ada’s story, and I was really thrilled with how the music came out – and so it had to be on the album!
LJN: It’s a studio album and yet it sounds very “live”… If you could dream of an ideal place for the interpretation of this music, where would it be?
CR: Goodness, a very difficult question to answer! I think that, in keeping with the central idea of the album, that of taking children’s voices very seriously, I would like to present this music and these performers, young and old, on a stage renowned for presenting the artistic work ” mainstage” – somewhere with a rich cultural heritage. In addition, it would be important to me that children could perform in public spaces and places/situations that are really their cultural heritage, the use and experience of which may even be their birthright.
For me personally, having grown up in London, places like the Southbank Center or the Barbican are good examples; and so I dream of the Dissolute Society sharing somewhere like the stage at the Royal Festival Hall alongside London schoolchildren, who may rightly call this place home, call it theirsin front of an audience that represents their community – friends, family and the public.
CONNECTIONS: This is how we grow on Bandcamp
Raph Clarkson website